Research Recommendations on Supporting and Developing Creative Environments: A review of the article: Creative Knowledge Environments

This is a follow-up to my creativity post of 6-15-2009

Reference: Hemlin, S., Allwood, C.M. & Martin, B.R. Creative Knowledge Environments (2006). Creativity Research Journal, 20, (2), pp. 196-210.  Which is also available online here.

First the results.  In my reading, the recommended conditions should have:

  • clear (and coordinated) objectives;
  • a research culture built over time;
  • a supportive and cooperative group climate that seeks and respects diverse thought in identifying salient problem features (sense-making);
  • strong vision with leadership in stimulating, structuring and promoting ideas;
  • a flat decentralized organizational structure giving appropriate autonomy to individuals linked by collective goals;
  • supportive and clear communication styles in a highly interactive environment (high levels of social capital) able to mediate any potential clash of ideas;
  • adequate resources (time, funding, equipment, library materials . . . etc.);
  • diverse individual characteristics (discipline, institution, cultural, social, geographical, motivational, etc. . .) with strong and varied individual competencies appropriate for the discipline(s) or field(s) involved;
  • appropriate quality control (although not in too excessive or intrusive a form);
  • an institutional base with an established reputation and visibility’
  • strong but flexible links with individuals both inside and outside of the organization
  • respect for breaking routines when necessary and for taking appropriate risks.

The paper notes that innovation tends to cluster geographically and reasons that:

innovative activities involve a significant element of tacit, embedded, and to some extent locally bound, or ‘sticky’ knowledge that is best communicated face-to-face . . . facilitated by small distances (Asheim & Gertler, 2004)


Looking primarily at the processes that lead to creative products this paper is attempting to identify what:

. . . types of factors are thought to either enhance and hinder creative output, but we are still in the early stages of finding empirical correlates as well as potential constellations of policies and leadership initiatives.

A definition from the paper (paraphrased):

Creative Knowledge Environments are environments, contexts, and surroundings (teams, companies, regions, nations) that exert a positive influence on human beings engaged in creative work producing innovative products.


The authors consider 3 levels of environments macro, meso and micro levels.  In addition they also provide the following more detailed classification schema for characterizing details of specific environments:

Components of Knowledge Environments and their Characteristics

Task characteristics: short-term/long-term, simple/complex, routine/novel, modularised/integrated

Discipline/field: natural sciences VS engineering VS social sciences VS humanities, theoretical VS experimental VS modelling, basic/applied, single paradigm VS multiple paradigms VS pre-paradigmatic, reductionist/‘holistic’, discipline-based/inter- or multi-disciplinary, influence of ‘epistemic community’

Individuals: knowledge, skills, abilities, cognitive style (e.g. broad/narrow, focused/eclectic), motivation, interests, career plans, values, beliefs, other personality properties (e.g. introvert/extrovert)

Group characteristics: size, integrated/loosely coupled, inward looking (‘group think’) VS outward- looking, leadership style, degree of group tension/harmony, heterogeneity/homogeneity of group members, ‘chemistry’ of personalities in the group, composition of knowledge, skills and abilities, agreed on or contested beliefs or underlying assumptions

General work situation for individuals: number of different work tasks or projects, features of time available for research (e.g. sparse/abundant, fragmented or concentrated), job ambiguity (total autonomy VS narrowly defined goals), quality of IT available (including the usability)

Physical environment: facilities, buildings, architecture, location, climate, equipment

Organisation: income sources, economic situation, organisational structure and culture, reward profile, leadership and managerial style (e.g. controlling/allowing), degree of organisational tension/harmony

Extra-organisational environment: small/large economy, expanding/decreasing economy, market characteristics (e.g. open/restricted, global/regional, competitive/monopoly), reward profile, information availability (open/closed), job opportunities and mobility, regional, national and cultural characteristics

Each of the above classifications can be divided into the elements of the social domain (“openness to new ideas or innovation, relations between colleagues or organisations, and routines for the upkeep of equipment”) and the cognitive domain (“bodies of knowledge and skills, cognitive work style and thinking style (e.g. adopting an experimental or ‘trial and error’ approach).  The cognitive domain can also be analyzes for spacial distributed aspects.  Environments can also be classified by the Triple Helix of industry, government, and non-profit.  Although these classifications will effect environments, it is likely that creating positive conditions for creativity will share much more across institutional types than they will differ.


These are general findings the authors derive from the literature and could be considered general recommendations for looking at the creative potential of individuals:

Internal motivation is generally seen as more important in relation to creativity. . .

Many researchers stress the prior need for quite extensive knowledge of the domain.  . . .

individuals should be given sufficient time and opportunities for practice and learning to occur.  . . .

creative problem-solving might rely more on “weak methods” (general problem solving skills)

In general, creative persons show greater openness to experience(,) higher tolerance for ambiguity (and have) flatter hierarchies of associations’ (i.e. having many associations for a particular stimulus with a fairly equal probability for each association, and with associations being easily affected by internal and external events)

Although the authors discuss other personality aspects of creative people, but the research seems more correlational than causational and sometimes conflicting.  I’m reluctant at this time to place much weight on other recommendations regarding personality.

Building A Creative Infrastructure: The Prime Economic Directive

This post begins a process to consider the importance of, and different methods of creativity.  It is a recognition, a re-thinking if you will, of the need for creativity, what it means, and how it is the foundation of much of my recent reading.  I’ll start with a couple of interesting finds from yesterday’s blog reading.  In subsequent posts I’ll look  at the research literature relevant to building a creative infrastructure.

First Harold Jarche posted about a project he undertook involving the idea of a research center bridging university research and venture interests through: applied research – prototyping – pre-commercial seeding.  As part of my comment I asked; Do you think anyone knows how to do such a thing – examples of methods?  A serendipitous browse of other blog readings that day led me to consider that creativity could be the basis of such a research center.

It was later that I came across a post by John Howkins, a guest on The Creativity at Work Blog. John has a new book, Creative Ecologies.

My new book, ‘Creative Ecologies’, shows that eco-systems is a useful model. A creative ecology is a network of habitats where people change, learn and adapt (or not, in some cases).  . . .Ecological models have a great advantage over the financial models that preoccupy government.  Ecologists speak the same language as do biologists and environmentalists and can share their ideas and theories, whereas economists are tied to rationalist preconceptions and to monetary values.  . . . Running throughout the model is what the Indonesian diplomat Soedjatmoko calls the ‘capacity to learn’.  It is astonishing how closely a country’s capacity to learn as a whole, rather than any individual genius, affects national levels of creativity and innovation. (Emphasis added)

He goes on to talk about bringing institutions of learning together and making their impact felt throughout a culture.

. . . bring think-tanks, research bodies and NGOs into the education process; protect learning-for-the-sake-of-learning from being squeezed out by learning-for-a-job vocational courses.  We must re-think ‘knowledge transfer’. . . .

In this perspective, your productivity and your sense of well being may well depend on the ecology you’re in. As Howkins says;

It helps if you are in the right place at the right time.  The old question, Where do you want to live?, is now, Where do you want to think? (Emphasis added)

Howkins, I believe, is talking about the importance of building an infrastructure of creativity, something that he indicate is substantially different from industrial era infrastructures.  It potentially could involve diversity, culture, communication, community resources and many other factors.

Which begins us to a post by Diego Rodriguez at the Metacool Blog on the The four ways of creative cultivators.  Interestingly, Diego begins with the same idea that I left off with in my last post (in my review of Management Rewired), collapsing the distinction between managing and leading.  He also uses a garden metaphor (something to which I’m partial), but I also believe that  he is really talking about 4 ideas for building an infrastructure for creativity:

1. Being at the bottom of things  (T)he leader-as-cultivator makes it their job to live simultaneously at the bottom and in the middle and on the edges, dealing with things that might seem like plain manure to outsiders. The bottom can be a messy place, but it is the wellspring of success . . ..

What is the foundation of creativity?  One aspect is to prepare your ground and the nutrients needed from growth.

2. Trusting what is there  Creative cultivators trust what is there. A wise cultivator resists the temptation to “dig up the seed”, as it were, to check if people are being creative enough. Many breakthrough innovation initiatives are stifled by linear project timetables . . ..

I don’t think this means don’t manage.  Think instead of the ways that Charles Jacobs (In my review of Management Rewired) operates in a Socratic mode collapsing the manager and leader distinction.

3. Seeing the ecosystem:  By their nature, gardens are part of larger ecosystems.

Two things.  Reflecting Howkins, the surrounding intellectual / learning community is an important source for creativity, as we already know in Silicon Valley, the North Carolina research triangle or Boston’s 128 Corridor.  But, it is also important the companies cultivate open environments and their infrastructures and policy frameworks recognize and encourage open boundaries.  Open models are becoming very successful.

4. Taking a bird’s eye view:  Finally, creative cultivators do all of the above while simultaneously curating the garden from a bird’s eye view. Managing a portfolio of creative endeavors requires knowing how many plants a certain piece of land can support and then pruning or as culling appropriate.  . . . guiding growth to be something unique and wonderful – that is the essence of strategy, and of gardening as well.

Diego also emphasizes that we can’t manage creativity, it can only be led:

(Creative Companies) see the leadership of creativity, in all its facets and complexity, as something akin to the act of cultivating a garden. Particularly when it comes to harnessing the power of emergent behavior, where creativity morphs into world-changing innovations, leaders must all — in fact, can only — tend to their gardens.  They must learn to become cultivators of creativity.

Echoing Howkins ideas of the importance of a culture of creativity, Diego says:

. . . it is incumbent upon leaders to unleash the creativity of the many, not the few.  . . . Modern organizations . . . must be able to tap in to the creativity, intelligence, and initiative of everyone affiliated with the brand, not just the talent of a select creative few.

In my next post I’ll review a Hemlin, Allword & Martin article “Creative Knowledge Environments (2008, Creativity Research Journal, 20, 2 196-210.).

Some Sources of Behavioral and Organizational Disfunction (via Soe and Creed 2002)

While reading dissertations from MIT’s DSpace (Thanks to Richard Hoeg for the link) I followed a reference from Seo & Creed (2002; Academy of Management Review, 27 #2).  This is a follow-up on my previous post and shows some reasons why there are multiple ways that disfunctional behavior can be supported in organizations.  They discuss four reasons why contradictory impulses can be seen in organizations:

Legitimacy that undermines functional inefficiency: There are certain practices and beliefs that become legitimate and require conformity within organizations or even entire industries.  But, these standard practices can be confining to technical practices that need to remain fluid  and change according to the context if they are to achieve maximum efficiency.  Over time some crystalized organizational structures can hamper practices substantially.

Adaptation that undermines adaptability: This concern is very similar to the previous one except to recognize that many crystalized forms are originally adaptive.  In one example they discuss the way individuals develop schemas to deal with complexity, but that they may resist changing that schema even when it is no longer functional.

Intra-institutional conformity that creates inter-institutional incompatibilities: “Organizations tend to incorporate all sorts of incompatible structural elements, practices, and procedures. . .”  This can occur because of different competing ideals in society where capitalism, family values, government bureaucracies, liberal democratic ideals and Judeo-Christian traditions can have “contradictory “central logics”.

Isomorphism that conflicts with divergent interests: There are social and power arraignments with divergent interests within any organization.  This means that all organizations are political. Politics can often get in the way of function and efficiency.

Ok; So what’s the suggested responce?

Decouple – Allow and explore how individual teams can explore diverse ways to self-organize and decouple from institutional structures and ways of acting.

Praxis – Politically recognize and support teams that are engaged in serving their customers over internal power struggles.

How Do You Change Behavior

Geetha Krishnan asks us a foundational question that is central to education, management and any other field related to psychology and concerned with behavioral skills. “Can (behavioral skills) really be taught to an adult? More accurately, can an adult change behavior through training?” I would answer yes; with substitute behavior, with appropriate mediation, with changing the functional structures supporting change and with a long term view and plan.  In answering, I will reference the examples presented by Geetha in his blog post

Before beginning, let’s take Geetha’s question one more step.  Trainers, coaches, and others involved in leadership, professional development, training or performance support are responsible for facilitating behavioral change.  The question is not if, it’s how?  I think it starts with a deep understanding of the person: their motivations, beliefs and desires, as well as with the expectation of the culture and community in which they are embedded and it continues as a partnership. You may develop curricula materials and training programs based on the general needs of the population you’re targeting (like the inspirational program Geetha references), but I think facilitating behavioral change is person specific, long-term and personal.  This may not be an exclusive list, just a start.

Substitute Behavior: One of BF Skinners insights is that people are active.  You can’t stop behavior, people will still be active, you can only change behavior.  In Geetha’s initial discussions the question is; how do you get people to talk less in meetings and to substitute active listening and recording behaviors instead.  In addition to thinking about what you do not want people to do, give some thought to what else they could do instead.

Mediation: The psychological insight of Vygotsky and Leont’ev was that people can regulate their behavior through cultural mediation.  That is, we can use language (inner speech) and ideas to regulate our behavior and these ‘mediators’ originate in the social world around us.  In Geetha’s example, there was an original training session that provided the ideas and justification for changing the way a supervisor was interacting with the people under him.  These ideas (mediator) were reinforced by the person’s peer group and likely by the corporate hierarchy.  What we don’t know from Geetha’s example are the cultural community and social influences on this persons behavior.  I think Geetha correctly identifies that there are tools that help us to change behavior, there are hows and methods for making this change and there are whys and reasons we are motivated.  What I suggest is that these are all mediators and that they are formed in the social world, but the ones discussed are not the only ones.  There are many others, sometimes contradictory ones that are out there and it takes a deep understanding of the social situations to understand what is supporting behavior in a person’s social milieu.   It is not hierarchical either.  Pressures from subordinates can be as important as those from bosses.

Structure: I believe that behavioral changes that are functional are the most likely to be maintained.  What do I mean?  Consider a person who listened more and recorded what he learned during client meetings.  Suppose he would then follow up by regularly summarizing what he learned and would make that learning a part of his response to his clients.  If that improved his performance, especially as it is seen in the social milieu, it would be a strong motivating factor in maintaining his new behavior.  I believe people can do things out of habit.  Making the new behavior a functional improvement is one why to break out of a habit.

The long view: Prochaska, DiClemente & Norcross (1992) speaks of a reoccurring cycle when trying to change behavior.  (They were speaking of therapy for addictive behavior, but I think it is applicable to many types of behavioral change.)  Behavioral relapse is common.  It does not mean that behavior cannot change, just that the cycle of change must be repeated.  For any change that is important, I think we must be committed to a long-term view with repeated efforts. Any change process should anticipate relapse and the need for repeated efforts to change should be considered normal.

This rather long and wonkish post should be considered the first draft of an idea in response to an important question.  It is almost the history of psychology.  I am sure that much addition thought and revision needs to occur here.  I certainly welcome any comments.

Collective Intelligence and Distributed Decision Making

Lots of information recently on the topic of collective intelligence and distributed decision making (web 2.0, decision 2.0, project management 2.0 etc. . .).

George Siemen’s blog looks at the report Clickstream Data Yields High-Resolution Maps of Science. He notes; “The data is current provided as images. It would be useful to navigate the resulting “map of science” in an interactive application”.  When this comes-to-pass, it would really represent a powerful web 2.0 app and a data tool for ideas.

The Many Worlds Blog discusses Eric Bonabeau’s Sloan management review article on Decision Making 2.0. (1-9-2009)  They note 2 concluding suggestions by Bonabeau

“First, collective intelligence tends to be most effective in correcting individual biases in the overall task area of (idea) generation” and

‘Second, because most applications lack a strong feedback loop between generation and evaluation, “companies should consider deploying such feedback loops with greater frequency because the iterative process taps more fully into the power of a collective.”’

This could really be realized if there were two more developments like clickstream data.

  1. If disciplinary research agendas would become more self-organized by being more connected to the collective 2.0 world, because research is just such a feedback loop that Bonabeau is calling for, and
  2. We had a better aggregator for research results.  There is too much research and knowledge being generated to use, at least in a way that taps into collective intelligence.  This would make the leap from idea generation 2.0 to evaluation 2.0.

Finally Andrew Filev in the Project Management 2.0 blog (referencing Seth Godin) says that collective intelligence still needs leadership (as in a leader of the project tribe).  It seems like this is a re-introduction of bias back into the system, but maybe some bias can be productive for getting things done.  I’m not sure.

There are Many Valuable Forms of Measurement in Social Science Related Fields

A recent HBR article touts the benefits on ethnography at Intel. (Ethnographic Research: A Key to Strategy. By: Anderson, Ken, Harvard Business Review, 00178012, Mar2009, Vol. 87, Issue 3)  There are many types of measures in the social sciences.  Each has its own strengths and weaknesses and each has a place in your measurement repertoire.  But, as this article points out, if you limit your view of measurement and science (or data collection and how you are able to deal with different kinds of datum) you will ultimately lose out.

Some people may not like this kind of viewpoint.  It tends to broaden one’s field of vision and many people like to stay narrow and focused.  There is a time and a place for narrow and focused, but there is also a time and place for broad.  Reminds me of something Martin Buber wrote (paraphrasing)

Only a fool give someone three choices.  The wise man gives only two choices, one that obviously good and one that is obviously evil.

I do hope I am correct in reading this sarcastically.  If this is indeed the knowledge age, we need lots of people who can deal with 3 and more choices on a regular basis.

A Measure of Process Standards can become a Key to Unleashing Creativity

When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.  I have to be careful or everything looks like a measurement opportunity to me.  Nonetheless, I can’t deny that there seems to be opportunities to implement better measures supporting evidence-based practice (as I suggested in my last post).  I think the process would go something like this.

  • Identify and scope out the domains of interest that are important to you.
  • Conduct systemic reviews to establish a description of the processes that represent best practices within each domain.
  • Develop a descriptive questionnaire to allow an organization to compare their current practice with best practices.
  • Initiating a change project based on a capability maturity model of process change.

The best practice questionnaire becomes the focal point.  It is the measure of your organizations current performance and it provides a prescription for where you’re headed.  It’s easy to understand.  Also necessary are outcome measures that provide feedback on the validity of the standards to your organization.

2 caveats:

1. Complete consensus may not be possible, but at least consensus within a proscribed paradigm should be expected.  What the instrument would have the potential to do is to focus research within a paradigm and provide a research platform for many organization to conduct their own improvement projects in the management discipline; similar to what six sigma has done for manufacturing.

2. Which leads to one final caveat.  This is not the end all and be all in management decision-making.  What this approach does is to provide a framework to organize and scaffold your thinking around evidence-based practice.  Science can only provide you with standards; with a description of what has been proven to work in the abstract.  Not everything can be proven by science; not everything can be summarized in a standard process.  What standards do is to tell you these things work, stop re-inventing the wheel. Put these things into place and then place your development focus on the contextual, the relationship, the imaginative, and other areas where empirical science is less helpful.  Knowing where to put your creativity, that’s the real benefit of standards.

The Research Practice Gap: Why is Evidence-based Practice so Hard to Achieve.

There’s has been some recent articles in the social science literature (nursing, education, management, HR, etc. ) about Evidence-based practice (EBP) or the research practice gap that exists in very many fields.  Why is EBP so difficult to achieve and why do so many solution articles leave me so underwhelmed.  I will offer a reason for the difficulties that I have not yet heard in a convincing manner.

Problem: Using research across different practices is basically the same problem as the transfer of learning or knowledge across contexts.

Reason for the problem: it takes work. Knowledge is closely tied to the contexts of production.  There may be theories and prior research that are applicable to a specific practice, but it takes work to contextualize that knowledge, see its applicability to specific contexts, and change the resulting practice.  What is that work:

  • Establishing a broad practitioner knowledge-base in order to know that the applicable theories and knowledge exist.
  • Knowing how the existing problem or practice can be reframed or re-understood in the light of this new knowledge.  It’s not just using knowledge in a new context, it is re-producing that knowledge or sometimes producing knowledge that is unique to that context.
  • Making changes and dealing with side problems common in change management.
  • Developing a feedback methodology for evaluating and adjusting practice changes

Solution;  we need practitioners with better skills and better tools:

  • A larger knowledge-base and a better network (or community of practice) that allows practitioners to tap into the cognition distributed across practitioner networks. In someways practitioners, because they need to be generalist, need a larger knowledge-base than do researchers who can restrict themselves to specialty areas.
  • Skills in problem framing:  re-conextualizing knowledge, hypothesis generation and testing, setting up experimental and other feedback methodology
  • Skills in communication and change management.  Understanding what to do is one thing, understanding how to get it done is another thing entirely.

Better tools. Many article speak like there is broad consensus on what practitioners should do like that consensus already exists.  That does not seem like the paradigmatically defined world of science that I know.  I think there is hard work yet to be done in writing practice standards and guidelines for best practices in most areas.  They are important however, as standards will form the basis for practitioners to be able to create measurement tools to measure how their practices are conforming, creating a deep understanding of their practice.  A measurement tool will also provide a practice compliancy pathway for changing practice.

Six Habits of Highly Resilient Organizations

In addition to disaster and contingency planning, organizations should consider resiliency planning.

1. Resilient organizations actively attend to their environments.
2. Resilient organizations prepare themselves and their employees for disruptions.
3. Resilient organizations build in flexibility.
4. Resilient organizations strengthen and extend their communications networks – internally and externally.
5. Resilient organizations encourage innovation and experimentation.
6. Resilient organizations cultivate a culture with clearly shared purpose and values

A standard management practice is the management of risk through disaster and contingency planning, that is, preparing for the black swan, the rare event.  However, if you take a wider perspective, problematic events that threaten the life of an organization come in many unpredictable varieties and happen more often than one might think.  A complimentary and positive response is to develop organizational resiliency

See: Six Habits of Highly Resilient Organizations

Also, a shout out to the Gary Peterson blog for bring this to my attention

Designing and Supporting Participation Cultures (or the Management of any Social System)

I reread an article from Gerald Fischer this morning and wanted to get the gist of it into my management toolbox.

Designing and Supporting Participation Cultures

Gerald Fischer wrote the following ideas about the design of software systems, but it can readily apply to any social system or system of management.  Quoted and Adapted from Fischer, G. (2009). Rethinking Software Design in Participation Cultures,

  • Embrace Users as Co-Designers
  • Provide a Common Platform to support sharing and the insight of others
  • Enable Legitimate Peripheral Participation
  • Share Control
  • Promote Mutual Learning and Support
  • Foster a Social Reward and Recognition Structure

Also a couple additional great insight from Dr. Fischer, in systems,

strike a balance in system design between automate and infomate.  I see this acting in two ways. Sometimes you want to collect information and at other times, supply information.  Sometimes you want to structure systems so that particular actions will happen, and sometimes you want to supply information that will allow the person to self-structure their actions.

All Systems (or social infrastructures) Evolve, intervene through a SER model: seed, evolve, reseed on a meta-design framework.

Meta-design [Fischer & Giaccardi, 2006] is a design methodology . . . that allow “owners of problems” to act as designers. A fundamental objective of meta-design is to create socio-technical environments [Mumford, 1987] that empower users to engage actively in the continuous development of systems rather than being restricted to the use of existing systems. Meta-design aims at defining and creating not only technical infrastructures for the software system but also social infrastructures in which users can participate actively as co- designers to shape and reshape the socio-technical systems through collaboration. (p.5-6.)

Even though Fischer is speaking of software design, it is really good design for all socio-technical systems and is also relevant to business management or any technical field based on the social sciences.  After all, what is management today other than the design and support of a participatory culture?